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Visions of the Future 3of3 The Quantum Revolution

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Years ago, I remember my schoolteacher announcing one day that there was an object so small, so tiny, we'd never be able to see it. Well, fortunately, that didn't put me off. In fact, I've spent my entire career studying this amazing object without ever setting eyes on it. That elusive, remarkable object was the atom. Atoms are the fundamental building blocks of everything that we can see. So if you understand the atom, you understand the universe. The scientific quest to understand the atom is largely completed. But today, I believe we are entering a new era, an era where we do more than simply understand atoms, we begin to control them. Amazingly, we can now manipulate individual atoms. We can pick them up, move them around, and even play with them. All my life, I've worked with the theories of Einstein, Stephen Hawking, string theory, and now, for the first time, I'm actually seeing what I'm manipulating with my equations. You know, every time I move my body I move trillions of atoms. But to see a single atom move like this... It's... It's quite intoxicating. Today we can manipulate individual atoms, but this is just the beginning of a journey. A journey which will ultimately give us the power to manipulate the very stuff of our universe - matter itself. We are on the brink of a revolution which will give us control, exquisite control, of our physical world. In this programme I will show how our mastery of matter will profoundly change our lives and the world around us. How atomic-scale machines will revolutionise medicine. How invisibility and teleportation could make science fiction come true. How we will generate limitless clean energy. And how cheap space travel might give us all a new perspective on our planet. These technologies will give us the power to utterly transform our future. But how are we going to use this power? Our deepest insight into the atomic world comes from the quantum theory. But the quantum theory gives us more than the ability just to manipulate individual atoms, it also underlies the architecture of the 20th century. The marvels of science, like the internet, laser beams, telecommunication satellites, radio, television, microwaves. Even the structure of the DNA molecule and biotechnology. All of it ultimately comes from the quantum theory. This theory offers a very different explanation of our world, one where the laws of conventional physics simply don't apply. The quantum theory is so strange and bizarre, that even Einstein couldn't get his head around it. At the atomic level, we see a phenomenon that normally we would consider sheer madness. In the real world, you can't simply disappear and reappear someplace else. That's nonsense. But in the quantum world, it happens all the time. At the level of atoms and subatomic particles, matter can be in an infinite number of places at once. The theory sounds preposterous, but it has one tiny thing going for it, and that is, it works. And in the coming century, it will enable us to radically transform our world. These Maglev trains travel on air due to magnetism, hovering just above the track. They cruise at up to 580 kilometres an hour, and they use less energy than regular trains, thanks to a quantum phenomenon - superconductivity. Superconductors are a miracle of quantum physics, and they're an outstanding example of how we are gradually becoming masters of matter itself. Now, usually, superconductivity is quite difficult to achieve in the laboratory, and it's quite expensive. But about 20 years ago, there was a revolution, when it was discovered that certain ceramics, like yttrium, barium, copper oxide here, become superconducting when exposed to ordinary liquid nitrogen. Now, liquid nitrogen costs as much as ordinary milk. By cooling the ceramic to -200 degrees centigrade, I'm effectively creating a new state of matter. The new material loses all its electrical resistance and becomes superconducting, able to induce powerful magnetic fields. I'm now going to place a magnet directly on top of the superconducting ceramic. The polarity has to be just right. There. It's floating now. This is the Meissner effect. The presence of the magnet on top induces a secondary magnetic field within the superconductor, and the two magnetic fields repel each other, giving you the illusion of anti-gravity. Notice that this thing is spinning without any friction whatsoever. Scientists hope to raise the temperature of the Meissner effect to avoid having to cool the ceramic. Imagine roads made out of superconductors at room temperature. Cars would hover right over the road without even touching it, without using any gasoline whatsoever. Or, imagine a belt made out of this material. You could then float in the air. You could then fly almost like Superman, floating on magnetism. So this is a realisation of the ancient dream of floating against gravity, anti-gravity, using magnetism to counteract the force of gravitation. We won't just change transport with our mastery over matter. In the future we'll also create materials with amazing new properties not found in nature. Until recently there was a property of matter so fantastic, it was thought to exist only in myths and legends. It was thought to be incompatible with the laws of physics. But last year, scientists made it happen. They created a material which shouldn't exist in nature. When light hits an object, it's the object's atomic structure that determines what we see, whether it's translucent marble... clear water... or green leaves. It all depends on how light interacts with the atoms. If we can manipulate those atoms, then we can ultimately control what the world looks like. This is exactly what David Smith and his team in North Carolina are beginning to do, by creating artificial materials called meta-materials. We started thinking about interesting things we could do with artificial materials, and one thing that came up was, we could make something like an invisibility cloak. What we've done is to take materials that are commonly found, something like copper and plastic, which is what our circuit board materials are made from, and we've placed patterns in the copper so that they're tiny circuits. And these circuits act as artificial atoms in a regular material, except now we've made an artificial material. And this altered material has a unique property - it can bend electromagnetic radiation around itself, making it invisible to microwaves. The lime green waves are microwaves. When an ordinary copper ring is placed in their path, the waves are disturbed. But when the meta-material is placed there, the waves bend around it and seamlessly merge on the other side, as if there was nothing there. An invisibility cloak is something entirely new. It's a structure that doesn't exist in nature, something that couldn't be fashioned out of existing materials and something that really functions in an almost science fictiony way, that you might imagine wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago. We've demonstrated the principle of invisibility at microwave frequencies. Microwave frequencies are a few centimetres in size, or at least, maybe the size of your thumb. So now we're looking into the future, and whether or not we can do this invisible light. In addition to microwaves, scientists have already succeeded in bending red and blue light. Full invisibility may be just decades away. The first applications are likely to be for military stealth. But it's hard to imagine we'll stop there. Oh, my Lord! The ancients have always been fascinated by the property of invisibility. Over 2,000 years ago Plato refers to this story. Once there was a poor shepherd who finds a cave, and inside the cave there's a ring, a ring of invisibility. And he uses that ring to sneak into the king's castle, seduce the queen, plot against the king. He killed the king and became the next monarch. Well, Plato used that story to show that invisibility is so powerful, it could cause societies to disintegrate. Well, I'm not sure about that. But I'm sure about one thing, and that is, our mastery over the properties of matter will massively open up our horizons. In the past, new materials often had a profound impact on our society. Concrete and steel, first mass produced in the 19th century, reshaped our cities, and the lives of all city dwellers. The Brooklyn Bridge was the largest steel suspension bridge ever built, its massive weight held up by 3,600 miles of hefty steel cable. When it opened in 1883, it allowed commuters into Manhattan and changed the city forever. But I believe the impact of steel will be nothing compared with the new materials we'll be creating in the future. In the 21st century science is experimenting with new classes of materials like carbon resins, ceramics and polymers. And one of the most promising is a substance that's actually stronger and lighter than steel, and in fact, you could replace the steel in these cables with fibres as thin as a human hair. That's the promise of carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are a miracle of nature. They're made out of individual carbon atoms arranged in a hollow cylinder. The cylinder surface is just one atom across. The diameter is only 50 atoms across. And these tubes can be billions of atoms long. These extraordinary dimensions give carbon nanotubes their unique properties. Their atoms are bonded with the strength of diamonds, yet they have the flexibility of fibre. Hi. I'm Stephen Steiner. Steve, how do you do? Great. Here at MIT, Stephen Steiner and John Hart are going to show me how to grow my own. So this is where it all happens? These are our furnaces where we grow nanotubes. So tell me, where does the carbon come from? It comes from a gas, which is in this tank. It's actually an age-old process, where you take a carbon-containing gas, and you put your chip on which we want to grow nanotubes, heat up the furnace and the heat causes the gas to decompose, and by that chemical reaction we can grow billions of nanotubes. It's not dangerous, is it? No, we just don't want to get the samples dirty, because the process needs to be pretty clean, as we're growing such small things. Our substrate has catalyst seeds, nano particles of a metal, and these act as the seeds from which the nanotubes grow. We're going to pre-heat them for the growth process. It's hard to believe that under this tiny piece of glass we're creating one of the strongest materials known to man. Yet carbon nanotubes are so small, we can only see them under a powerful microscope. This is a block of nanotubes, and that's a human hair. So now we can focus in... and there we have a strand of carbon nanotubes sitting on the human hair. We can zoom in and compare the size of the hair to the size of the nanotubes. Even this strand contains hundreds, thousands of nanotubes altogether. It really puts into into perspective how small the nanoscale really is. So far we can only grow short lengths of carbon nanotubes. But hundreds of businesses and researchers are racing to develop longer carbon nanotubes in order to harness their huge potential. In the future we might be able to use carbon nanotubes for un-smashable cars, un-collapsible buildings, ultra-light jet planes. And some people even believe we could use them to build a highway into space. This is the famous Seattle Space Needle, built in 1962 for the World's Fair, at the dawn of the space age, when people dreamed about visiting Mars and Venus. Well, that never happened. 50 years later, the space programme seems to be stuck. Space travel is simply too expensive. We need a way to go into outer space without expending all that expensive rocket fuel. Well, one thing out of science fiction is the space elevator. But it was considered just a far-fetched curiosity... until recently. With the amazing strength and lightness of carbon nanotubes, it's now a serious proposition. Space elevators are a very clever idea. And there's no reason why they shouldn't work. The idea that you just, essentially, lower a carbon nanotube rope down onto the surface and winch things up... It sounds like science fiction, but in my opinion, anything that's scientifically possible, and not ruled out by the laws of physics, should be possible, in engineering terms, at some point in the future. The space elevator was the brainchild of a visionary Russian scientist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who was inspired way back in 1895 by the newly-built Eiffel Tower. Since the 1970s, NASA has been funding a trickle of research into what is essentially a permanent lift into space. A space elevator is nothing but a super-strong cable up to 60,000 miles in length, suspended from outer space and anchored on the planet Earth. What keeps it afloat is the spin of the Earth. Think of a ball on a string. As you twirl a ball on a string, it doesn't fall down, because of the centrifugal force of being spun in a circle. Now, you can calculate that steel is not strong enough to resist this centrifugal force. But for the first time in history we have a substance, carbon nanotubes, with more than enough strength to resist the pressure of being suspended from outer space. And that's why NASA is offering a half-million dollar prize to the first group that can build a simple prototype of a space elevator. Just outside Seattle, one of the most promising teams is using laser power to drive a robot climber up a cable. How do you do? OK. Andres, I don't think we have enough hands in here yet. Can you...? We need another cook in the kitchen. Yeah. Yeah, we'll make an Italian. The team, called Lasermotive, hope their system will overcome one of the biggest problems of space travel. And there's a bit of dust on it. 50 years into the space age, and we're still stuck with the fundamental stumbling block, that, when a rocket blasts off, we have this enormous booster rocket lighting up the sky, only just for a few minutes. 90% of the rocket fuel, 90% of the hardware goes into overcoming just the first few hundred miles of the gravity field of the planet Earth. Well, that's where the space elevator comes in. The space elevator allows you to leapfrog past that gravity barrier. It uses no rocket fuel whatsoever, has minimal hardware, and would drive down the cost of space travel by a factor of perhaps 100. Three... two... one... For the first time, space could be open to all. With its promise of cheap and easy access, the space elevator could allow us to mine space minerals, or beam solar energy back to Earth. Or it could simply give us a different perspective on our planet. Visionaries have always dreamed about the colonisation of outer space. The space elevator could be the key step toward eventually reaching the stars. And it might have another, deeper impact. Our horizons often determine our understanding of just who we are. For most of human history, for example, our horizons were determined by our tribe, which numbered just a few hundred individuals. But gradually it expanded to include large city states, large nation states and industrial empires. Well, in the future, when access to outer space is for everyone, not just for the rich, then our horizons will expand to include the entire planet. And we'll move away from seeing ourselves divided by religion, ethnicity or nationality. When we look down from outer space at the planet Earth, not only will we realise how precious life is, but the fact that we belong in a truly planetary civilisation. At that point, our consciousness, our horizons, will be truly planetary. But as we move toward a planetary society, there's one crucial issue we'll need to master - energy. When astrophysicists scan the galaxy for evidence of other civilisations, they categorise them according to their energy signatures. Energy is necessary for survival, for development, and helps to define a civilisation's capabilities. And there are three types of these civilisations. A type one civilisation controls all planetary sources of energy, they control the weather. They control the oceans and the hurricanes. A type two civilisation has exhausted all planetary sources of energy, and they get their energy by consuming the output of their mother star. A type three civilisation is galactic. They use the energy of tens of billions of star systems, and they roam the galactic space lanes with their starships. Why are there three types of civilisations? Because there are three types of energy sources in the galaxy - planets, stars and the galaxy itself. So where does that leave us? We are a type zero civilisation. We are so primitive we don't even control the energy resources of our planet. We get our energy from dead plants oil and coal. Our progress as a civilisation depends on whether we're able to move beyond our dependence on fossil fuels. A few years ago I lived through one of the greatest blackouts in the history of the United States. In the Northeast we had a total blackout. The effects were immediate. First of all, the subway lines were paralysed, transportation came to a grinding halt. Second of all, commerce came to a halt because you couldn't use your credit card in machines any more. Not only that, food began to rot because refrigerators demanded electricity. And if you lived in a 50-floor skyscraper, you had to walk 50 flights just to get home. So without electricity, it's like living in a pre-industrial society. The New York blackout was in 2003, but today, climate change is forcing us to question our huge appetite for energy. But can we really imagine reducing our energy usage? Everything that is good about modern civilisation, clean water, medicine, extending life expectancy, everything that we do requires energy. So to me, energy conservation is almost a... it's not a desirable goal, right? Conserving energy is necessary if you generate it in a dangerous way. And we do generate it in a dangerous way at the moment. But I see no reason, from a scientific perspective, why that has to continue. Energy, especially fossil fuels, is so scarce that it provokes conflicts between nations. So imagine an energy source which is safe, clean, efficient and abundant. It could have a profound effect on society. It could change everything. And that energy source could be nuclear fusion. Our sun is a massive fusion reactor. Its core is so hot that atoms of hydrogen are forced together until they fuse, giving off massive amounts of energy. Our mastery over matter could give us cheap energy forever, because the fuel that sustains fusion is abundant on Earth - water. The biggest challenge is how to contain a plasma of hydrogen atoms that's so hot, it will incinerate anything it touches. At the world's largest experimental fusion reactor in Oxfordshire, that's what they do, every day. .. Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one... .. zero. Marie-Line Mayoral is a French physicist who has dedicated her life to mastering fusion energy. When I was a child, they built a big nuclear power plant near my house, and I was extremely afraid that something will, I don't know, explode, or...! And then I talked to my parents that, er... I will work in a nuclear power plant, in order to make it safer. Well, at the end, I don't work in a nuclear power plant, but... I'm working on the project to replace them by something safer. To contain the plasma, scientists have been refining a design called the Tokamak reactor. It's basically a magnetic bottle, and the magnetic fields hold the fiery plasma away from the edges. We can reach, without any trouble, 50 million degrees, 100 million degrees. This is not now a big deal to do that. The point is, to do that for a certain time. At this experimental fusion reactor, Mayoral and her colleagues can control the plasma for 30-second bursts. It's impressive, but it isn't long enough to produce any usable amounts of energy. What scientists need is a bigger reactor, that will allow them to keep the plasma going long enough to reach the critical point at which fusion becomes self-sustaining. The science of nuclear fusion has been around for half a century. In principle, we know we can do it. But as a society, we've lacked the commitment to allocate enough resources to solve all the many technical challenges. But as scientists grapple with the hottest plasma on Earth, the political climate is beginning to change. Last year, governments representing half the population of the world decided to fund a new fusion reactor. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, to be built in France. It's designed to be big enough to create self-sustaining fusion energy for the first time. Fusion energy may finally become a reality. Between 15 and 20 years from now we will be ready to start building a real power station which will produce electricity. That could be operating within 30 years, a few prototypes. After that, by the... Before the middle of the century, we hope to have large-scale fusion power. Fusion, er, for me, it's a way of producing electricity in a safe way and in a cheap way. And and we have to try that, basically. There is no other way. If we had energy that's safe, clean, cheap and unlimited, imagine what we could do. We could control global warming. We could replace fossil fuels and oil. Feed an expanding population. Meet the needs of a growing world. Ultimately, the quantum revolution will give us a whole range of sustainable, renewable energy sources. And it will also give us a new technology, whose impact could be even greater - nanotechnology. Nanotechnology will allow us to redesign the world by building with atoms, one by one. When you can do that, you're talking about controlling the fundamentals of matter and energy. And that's a breathtaking moment. You know, that's a thing where you're no longer STUDYING nature in science, you're CREATING nature, you're creating new realities. A nanometre is a billionth of a metre. You can't see it. In fact, it's about ten atoms across. Now imagine a machine that is on the scale of a nanometre. A machine that's made out of a few hundred, a few thousand individual atoms. Well, you may say to yourself, "That's science fiction. "How can you make a saw, a lever, a wheel "made our of maybe a thousand atoms?" Well, Mother Nature has already done it. Mother Nature can take raw materials, and out of that, create life. The goal of nanotechnology is to create nano machines on the scale of living cells, like proteins, DNA or bacteria, and design them to perform equally complex tasks. These miniature mechanical devices could turn toxic waste into harmless matter. Or they could travel through our blood vessels to mend cells from within. The first step toward building these nano machines is to hijack living systems at the molecular level, and engineer them to do what we want. At MIT, Andreas Mershin is doing this with plant proteins. We're trying to use plants to create solar power. Plants have developed this amazing ability to capture sunlight and create and store chemical energy. We can grab the machine, the protein inside the plant, photosystem one which is responsible for generating this energy for the plant and hijack its function, put it on a substrate of our choosing and use the energy to create solar electrical power, and to run light bulbs or any kind of machinery that you want. Mershin modifies the plant protein, then connects it to a bed of specially engineered nano wires that act as electrodes. The final product will be a nano machine that delivers solar power in the form of a paint. Our goal is to provide an alternative to regular silicon-based solar panels. They're big and heavy and they're not ideal to be transported to a remote village in Africa or China or India. What we're trying to do is produce a material that's almost like a paint that you can paint on a metallic surface, expose it to light and have yourself some electricity. Hijacking nature to make nano machines offers an awesome new power with endless potential. We're domesticating protein molecules, protein living machines, to do things that are interesting to us, and there's a huge menagerie of such proteins in the natural world, from plants and animals and all sorts of other things, such as bacteria, that can make, pretty much, anything you want. The trick is to be able to engineer them and change them, and harness their power and make them do what you want them to do. One of the most exciting applications of these hybrid machines is to cure illness from within our own bodies. Here in this very estuary in Rhode Island, scientists have found bacteria which they are using to power a prototype nano robot that could fit in our blood vessels. Hi, how are you? Nice meeting you. Under the microscope we have thousands of bacteria. And here you have a joystick... I see... and then you can control - left, right, go forward and backward, by pressing those buttons over here. Well, I see thousands of bacteria... and I can move them down... Yes, I can see them move down... Up... Moving to the right... 'These bacteria are sensitive to magnetic fields, 'so I'm actually controlling them with magnets. ' Moving to the left... I almost feel omnipotent. Like a god controlling thousands and thousands of bacteria. Amazing. Martel's team has already used the magnetic field of an MRI machine to drive a tiny device along a living artery. The plan is then to shrink this device, place the bacteria inside it, and use their rotating tails as miniature engines to drive it around our bodies and deliver drugs to specific targets. Our main goal is to develop new medical tools. And the main application we have right now is to target the tumour inside the human body. So the trick here is to be able to... integrate those tiny motors into... a machine that could deliver drugs, and be able to control it by computer. You can barely see that thing. Yeah, exactly. So the next step is to engineer a microchip to give the nano machine intelligence. So this microchip actually is huge for us. It's too big. We want to get it much smaller. You want to get it so small you could fit it into the capillaries of the body? Exactly. So they can go anywhere they want. Well, here what we see is one of those kind of robots. This version have six motors. Six motors that contain several bacteria which are controlled, because you need to be able to turn left and right, and the same time to go forward or backward. How many bacteria are pushing this chip? About 80 bacteria. About 80 bacteria. So this is like a chip with propellers, right? Exactly, exactly. In the future, swarms of invisible nano robots might be permanently patrolling our blood systems, repairing tissue and keeping us healthy. When I think about the implications of the work being done here, I can't help but think about my father and my mother. My father died of Alzheimer's disease, and now it afflicts my mother. It's a horrible disease. It robs you of your very sense of who you are. And yet, I can now imagine a time when we can use these kinds of targeted therapies and artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to zero in on the brain, to clear out the brain of the proteins that have gummed up our neural circuits, and give us hope again. Imagine what we can do with this. You could imagine injecting millions of them into your bloodstream, and they would first serve as watchdogs, waiting for the early onset of cancer, or some other terrible disease and allowing you to intervene far earlier than you ever could before. The next generation of nanobots are expected to be the hunter-killer ones, and those are the ones who you could send in and destroy cancer cells right at the beginning. And it's even theoretically possible to imagine that these could go after fat cells, so that you'd never see an obese human being again. But nanotechnology is not only being developed for health and longevity. Well, on the battlefield the nanobots are going to do a lot of things. For instance, they can seek and destroy specific targets. You can make them very, very smart so they can identify not only geographical areas but specific weapons systems or communications systems that you wish to attack. You've heard about, you know, the surgeons that you can inject into your bloodstream. Well, the surgeon can go in there to repair a clogged blood vessel, or they might be able to go in there and punch holes in blood vessels, if you want to destroy an adversary. The embryonic stages are here today, and a lot of work is being done. There are national-level programmes in several countries in the world developing these technologies. They will, you know, in the period of a couple of decades, you're going to see major changes. What is particularly exciting and extremely controversial about nanotechnology is the belief that nano machines will be designed to scavenge molecules from their environment to reproduce themselves. They will be smart and autonomous, but just like the viruses and bacteria they're modelled on, they will have the potential to do enormous damage. In nanotechnology, people are all talking about creating man-made objects that can produce more of themselves. They're self-replicating. And you've got to be real careful about a self-replicating anything, because you'd better know where the off switch is. In the grey goo scenario, this is a world in which these nanobots might keep on replicating until they consume all of the energy on the entire planet, leaving nothing but grey goo behind. Prince Charles' concern over grey goo brought the threat of nanotechnology to the public's attention. But, for some, nanotechnology malfunctioning is not the most worrying thing. The much bigger risk seems to be, not a freak accident, but the deliberate design of weapons systems using molecular nanotechnology. And with this advanced form of nanotech, it would be possible to build different kinds of weapons systems for which it's very difficult to see how an effective defence would be possible. In my view, the advanced form of nanotechnology is arguably the greatest existential risk that humanity is likely to confront in this century. Oh, you can be guaranteed it will eventually get into the wrong hands. The best we can do is both safeguard against that eventuality, but it will happen, and then be one step ahead. For every move there's a counter move, and we need to continue to research in these areas. I believe we'll build safeguards to destroy or deactivate nanobots if they get out of control, or into the wrong hands. And I think the potential benefits of nanotechnology vastly outweigh the perceived risks. Nano machines could give us the amazing ability to disassemble molecules into individual atoms and reassemble them into new structures. This means we could make anything we want at home using a personal fabricator, a box full of nano machinery that builds objects from the atom up. Commercial companies are already promoting a future of personal fabrication. 'Future advances in molecular nanotechnology 'will enable desktop appliances to manufacture products 'far better than today's best. 'Each product is built from beneath, layer by layer, 'by billions of tiny machines all working together. ' As I see it, a personal fabricator is a factory on a desktop. It'll be about the size of a microwave oven, or maybe a vending machine, but instead of dispensing candy bars or soda pop, it creates pretty much anything you can imagine, from high-tech items like PCs and mobile phones, all the way down to basic necessities like food, clothing and medicines. Almost anything you can imagine, this device will create. Neil Gershenfeld of MIT believes this technology will work in the same way that the body is built, from proteins that produce other proteins. Your body has a protein that assembles other proteins like building blocks and it really runs a program. So the research that we're doing is, we're just on the edge of learning mathematically, technically, how to programme materials, how to fundamentally digitise fabrication. So if you can manipulate atoms to modify proteins, you're in a sense improving on nature? Absolutely. The research road map is leading, 20 years from now, to make the Star Trek replicator, the molecular assembler that really builds everything on a molecular scale. So that at that stage, it's a lot like life, where a part can make a part that can make a part. We're just at the edge now of this very parallel digital revolution in fabrication, and what's it's going to do is take all of the programmability you're used to, in the digital world on your desktop, and bring it to the physical world, so you can really programme the physical world. So you're programming reality, in some sense? In a very explicit sense. So in the future, instead of shopping from our computers or in the high street, we could be producing everything we want and need at home, programming matter with our personal fabricators. To inventor Ray Kurzweil, this will have radical implications for society. Actually, I think, overcome the have/have-not divide, because we'll be able to create physical products... just from information. So a shirt, a meal or a computer, we'll be able to essentially print out using these nanotechnology table-top fabricators, and really, very easily and very inexpensively, meet the material needs of any size biological population. But with nanotechnology and personal fabrication, perhaps, at least, the simple basic necessities, can be gotten simply by asking for it. So possessions are not going to mean that much. What are your thoughts? I agree. I mean, it's not just the necessities but, er... We will still have wealth. There'll still be wealthy people, there'll still be proprietary forms of information you have to pay for, not everything is going to be free. But the lowest level, you'll be able to live very comfortably with adequate housing and food and clothing and fashion, and really living, you know, what we today consider almost a wealthy lifestyle at the lowest level. If a self assembler ever does become possible, that's going to be one of history's great "Holy shit!" moments. Then you're really talking about changing the world into something beyond anything we've ever recognised before. Personal fabrication could challenge everything about our society and economy. The role of money, the nature of commerce, the gap between rich and poor. Some scientists believe that in a mere 20 years we'll have personal fabricators right in our living room. I'm not so sure. There are a lot of hurdles that still have to be negotiated. I would say, perhaps, by mid to late 21st century we'll begin to see the outlines of personal fabrication. We're talking about the ultimate Holy Grail of nanotechnology, the ability to create something out of almost nothing. The coming revolution, the revolution that's going to happen when we really learn how to manipulate matter at the molecular level, at the subatomic level, will take everyone, including me, by surprise. Because it really removes the barrier to doing, pretty much, anything you want. Anything that you can see around you, including yourself, that's solid, is only a pattern. It's a pattern of atoms and molecules. And if you know how to manipulate those patterns, then, really, the possibilities are absolutely endless. The quantum revolution radically challenges the way we view the world. It's already transformed some of the ideas from science fiction, and turned them into science fact. Here in Vienna, one of the most fantastic concepts of science fiction has already been turned into reality. And in fact, it may represent our ultimate mastery over matter itself. It's called teleportation. In my group, we have achieved teleportation ten years ago, and we are doing it on a regular basis, all the time improving any new things and so on. So it's a simple fact. Teleportation exists. This is the world's first teleportation machine. With it, Professor Anton Zeilinger and his team are teleporting individual particles of light, called photons, from one prism to another. And it can happen over any distance. The present record about distance in teleportation is 600 metres. This was done by our group from one side of the River Danube over to the other side. But there are no limits. We might do it some day to the Moon or to Mars, or who knows? Professor Zeilinger is inducing a peculiar state in his particles of light. It's called quantum entanglement. It's a mysterious bond between a pair of photons. When you change one, the other changes instantly. So the photon itself isn't teleported, just the information it contains. What we really teleport in quantum teleportation is the information carried by a system. This information is teleported over to another system which assumes exactly that information, therefore it becomes identical with the original. The original loses its properties... and the new one is made up of different matter, it's not the same matter as the original. What's interesting is that the original photon's information is lost, which could have huge implications for teleporting anything on a larger scale. Is it out of the question, or is it just very, very difficult to teleport a dog, a cat, or a human? Well, we can dream. And if you dream about teleportation of humans, then all kind of questions arise, like, "What does it mean to be me?" When someone teleports me and I know that what is being teleported is information, not matter, not the stuff I'm made of... who is it who ends up over there? How does the average person react to the fact that you have to be destroyed in order to have your state teleported? Suppose we put an ad in the newspaper, just for fun. Just for fun we put an ad in the newspaper which said that we want to try teleportation of people and we look for volunteers, but we cannot guarantee that it will be successful, 100%. Maybe only 10 or 20%. I bet many people would show up and want to be the first one teleported! In the next few years, scientists will teleport the first simple molecule. Then complex molecules, perhaps the first virus within a decade or so. Teleporting a human may seem impossibly advanced, but science is changing our world faster than it has ever done in human history. If you'd have told me 20 years ago that my mobile phone would be able to pinpoint my position, using a network of satellites, to within a couple of metres, then I would have almost certainly not believed you. But now the global positioning system is in everybody's car, it's appearing in everybody's mobile phones and in watches. So remarkable things do happen, and actually, they're happening at smaller and smaller time intervals. Progress is accelerating. We are witnessing an unparalleled explosion in scientific knowledge. We've learned more in the past 50 years than in all of human history. And why is that? It's because of the synergy, the intense interplay between the three great revolutions: the quantum, computer, and biotech revolutions. And when these revolutions work in harmony they feed off each other and unleash a tidal wave of scientific discovery. And this synergy will only accelerate into the 21st century giving us technologies that we can only dream about. One of the best examples of the impact of this powerful synergy is the Human Genome Project. Back in 1985, when people were talking about sequencing the human genome, most sensible people thought, first of all, it was probably impossible, and that if it were possible, it would take till the year 2015 and cost the earth. Well, of course it happened much faster than that. In the year 2000, for only a few billion. Chump change, as these things go(!) And the reason is that the price of the computer kept on dropping and dropping and dropping, and that's what people who were projecting the future hadn't taken into consideration. There are scores of examples of the synergy between these three great revolutions. For example, we now use laser beams to scan hundreds of genes at any one given time, and then we use supercomputers to process this vast amount of genetic information. But it's not only genes, we're using supercomputers to reveal the secrets of everything, from proteins to the human brain. Synergy is truly leading us toward mastery of matter and life. Basically, the rate of technical progress and its impact is doubling every decade. And exponential growth is quite phenomenal. It literally means that these technologies, which are already very influential, will be a billion times more powerful than they are today 25 years from now. And that's really quite transformative. We're beginning to be able to take control of the workings of our minds, our memories, our metabolisms, our personalities and our kids. We have the means, through genetics, robotics, information and nanotechnology, to control matter, energy and life itself at the most basic levels. We've never seen anything like this before, and this is raising profound questions about what it means to be human and what our lives, our futures and our children will be like. The intense cross-pollination between the computer, biotech and the quantum revolutions will give us unprecedented power in the 21st century. The power to create a planetary civilisation, a civilisation based on progress, scientific knowledge and trust. Or, on the other hand, the power to unleash unparalleled chaos and anarchy on the Earth. The choice is ours, and the time to discuss these questions is now. That's because the current generation holds the future of the Earth in its hands. Subtitles by Richard J Boyle Red Bee Media Ltd

Video Details

Duration: 58 minutes and 36 seconds
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Producer: BBC
Views: 3,302
Posted by: asianos on Jan 1, 2010


The quantum revolution could turn many ideas of science fiction into science fact - from metamaterials with mind-boggling properties like invisibility through limitless quantum energy and room temperature superconductors to Arthur C Clarke's space elevator. Some scientists even forecast that in the latter half of the century everybody will have a personal fabricator that re-arranges molecules to produce everything from almost anything. Yet how will we ultimately use our mastery of matter? Like Samson, will we use our strength to bring down the temple? Or, like Solomon, will we have the wisdom to match our technology?

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